Monday 22 July 2019

The Ridleys at Peacock Theatre - Consulting the dark side of the teenage mind

  • The Ridleys, Peacock Theatre, Dublin Until Jan 26

Impressive performance: Rex Ryan. Photo: Ste Murray
Impressive performance: Rex Ryan. Photo: Ste Murray

Katy Hayes

The complexity of the young mind is the target of English writer Philip Ridley in this pair of complementing monologues which receive their Irish premiere from Theatre Upstairs in association with the Abbey Theatre. These plays are frequently performed together in rep on alternating nights. Here, they are presented as a double bill, where their thematic similarities chime in a meaty evening of confrontation with the dark side of teenage psychology.

Presenting the two 75-minute plays on the same night is a bold move by director Karl Shiels in an era that promotes interval-less theatre evenings of ever-increasing brevity.

First up is Tonight With Donny Stixx, originally performed in 2015. It is a portrait of a lonely teenager whose mother always withheld her love and eventually killed herself. Donny performs magic tricks in a hungry attempt to validate himself. Rex Ryan gives the character nervy, impulsive life. The young man's ambition, coupled with his misguided self-importance, create a trap for him with violent consequences. His aunt Jess tries to protect him from the harshness of the world, but only succeeds in making him feel its cruelty more strongly.

Katie Honan plays Andrea in Dark Vanilla Jungle, first performed in 2013. Honan inhabits this desperate scrap of unloved humanity, portraying explosive anger and heart-wrenching poignancy. The play deftly explores how teenage girls can be utterly vulnerable to the predations of older men. But what is interesting here is how Andrea, in turn, finds a man more vulnerable than herself to exploit, as she descends into a vortex of self-delusion. Both characters seem to have stepped out of the British newspapers.

Shiels' direction is audacious, pushing the actors to intensities and extremities. Both performances would have been too large for Theatre Upstairs' snug home venue. Derek Conaghy's subtle sound design was bravely battling against sound bleed from the Abbey main stage's current musical production. Naomi Faughnan's set design is all about perspective; the two characters are incarcerated in a juvenile facility, but are mainly trapped inside their own heads.

Monologues are basically a form of storytelling, so they lack that essential tug-of-war that is most exciting in the theatre. Even ones as smartly written as these leave a sense of dissatisfaction. But this is well worth seeing for the two impressive performances from Honan and Ryan, young actors making their mark.


Dark 'Macbeth' sheds light on Brexit Britain

Macbeth, Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin Until tonight

Director Rufus Norris's production of the Scottish play for the British National Theatre places Macbeth squarely in a dystopian present. Costumes are scruffy contemporary. The set is dominated by a moving ramp bridge, made from metal and wood; drapes are tattered black tarpaulin.

Macbeth, encouraged by Lady Macbeth, kills the king of Scotland in order to seize the throne. But concealing the regicide demands more and more killing, and a tyrannical murder spree ensues.

The three witches, who can be interpreted as a supernatural engine behind the malevolence, are here played as magical sprites, more witness than cause. Their skittering up and down poles is charming and nicely establishes the trees for Birnam Wood.

This is the great Shakespeare play about conscience; Kirsty Besterman as Lady Macbeth does a delightful meltdown, wracked with guilt and self-loathing. Macbeth (Michael Nardone) ties himself in knots justifying his tyranny. The darkness is located not in the supernatural world, but rather at the core of ambition. As the United Kingdom juggles ambitious men and nationalism in the real world, this murky Macbeth casts some light on Brexit Britain.

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